In yesterday’s Roll Call, former Virginia Congressman Alan Mollohan and Oklahoma Congressman and Right on Crime signatory JC Watts announced the formation of the Charles Colson Task Force to tackle federal prison reform. They write:

It is imperative that public safety remain the focal point of this conversation. When we talk about reducing federal spending on incarceration, we’re not advocating for the release of persons who pose a danger to society. But we also know that there are smarter and more cost-effective ways to deal with criminals using programs like drug courts and enhanced supervision. Moreover, federal prisoners should receive programming that helps improve their reentry chances and likelihood of success once they leave incarceration. [Continue reading at Roll Call…]

The new bipartisan Task Force is named after the late Chuck Colson, a former aide to President Nixon who, after serving time for Watergate-related offenses, founded the Justice Fellowship and became the leading figure in conservative criminal justice reform.

Below is the press release for the Colson Task Force. Find out more about the project at

Former US Reps. J.C. Watts, Jr. and Alan Mollohan Announce Federal Corrections Task Force
Blue ribbon panel named for Charles Colson will take on federal prison overcrowding

Washington, DC– Today, former US Representatives J.C. Watts, Jr. and Alan Mollohan announced the establishment of the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections: a nine-person, bipartisan blue-ribbon panel mandated by Congress to examine challenges in the federal corrections system and develop practical, data-driven policy responses. Watts will serve as the Colson Task Force’s chair and Mollohan will serve as its vice-chair.

“The time is ripe for federal prison reform,” said Colson Task Force chair J.C. Watts, Jr. “Our blue-ribbon panel harnesses the expertise of some of the brightest justice policy minds in the country, including criminal justice leaders who have been working to safely reduce corrections populations in their home states. Together we will build on current momentum for improving efficiencies in the federal prison system and reducing its social and financial costs in a way that’s grounded in data and consistent with public safety.”

“I’ve long argued that instead of throwing good money after bad, Congress should follow the example of the states and take steps to curb federal prison population growth,” said Colson Task Force vice-chair Alan Mollohan. “I’m encouraged that there have been bills introduced that aim to do that, and I firmly believe that the Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections will be an excellent vehicle to help transform many of those ideas, and others yet to be developed, into law.”

The federal prison population has grown by a factor of eight since 1980, with 214,000 prisoners at the close of fiscal year 2014. While this population recently experienced its first drop in three decades, facilities continue to operate over capacity, endangering staff and prisoners and costing taxpayers nearly $7 billion—a quarter of the Justice Department’s budget. Continued prison overcrowding also jeopardizes critical efforts to provide prison rehabilitation, employment, and reentry programs that promote public safety and reduce recidivism.

The Colson Task Force is named for former Nixon aide Charles “Chuck” Colson who, after serving time in a federal prison camp for his role in Watergate, made a commitment to support prisoners and their families through the establishment of the world’s largest family of prison ministries. Task Force members include state criminal justice reform champions; a former federal prosecutor, judge, and defender; and others with critical perspectives.

Members of the Charles Colson Task Force:

  • J.C. Watts, Jr., Chair: Chairman, J.C. Watts Companies; Congressman (R-OK) (1995-2003)
  • Alan B. Mollohan, Vice-Chair: Congressman (D-WV) (1983-2011)
  • David C. Iglesias:  Director, J. Dennis Hastert Center for Economics, Government and Public Policy, Wheaton College; United States Attorney for the District of New Mexico (2001-07)
  • Jim Liske: President and CEO, Prison Fellowship Ministries
  • Jay Neal: Executive Director, Georgia Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Reentry; Representative, Georgia General Assembly (R-Lafayette) (2005-13)
  • Laurie O. Robinson: Clarence J. Robinson Professor of Criminology, Law and Society, George Mason University; Assistant Attorney General, US Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs (1993-2000; 2009-12)
  • Cynthia W. Roseberry: Project Manager, Clemency Project 2014; Executive Director, Federal Defenders of the Middle District of Georgia (2009-14)
  • Judge Ricardo M. Urbina: Arbitrator and Mediator, JAMS; Judge, US District Court for the District of Columbia (1994-2012)
  • John E. Wetzel: Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections

The Task Force will convene in January 2015 and hold five meetings throughout the year. Its members will identify the drivers of federal prison population growth and increasing corrections costs; evaluate policy options to address the drivers and identify recommendations; and prepare and submit a final report in December 2015 with findings, conclusions, policy recommendations, and legislative changes for consideration by Congress, the Attorney General, and the President.

The Urban Institute and its partner, the Center for Effective Public Policy, is providing research, analysis, strategic guidance, and logistical support to the Charles Colson Task Force through a cooperative agreement with the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, US Department of Justice.

Today’s event was hosted on Capitol Hill by US Representatives Frank Wolf (VA-10) and Chaka Fattah (PA-2), the chairman and ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, which led the effort to create the Task Force.

With today’s announcement also comes the launch of the Colson Task Force website,, which will house the latest news and information on the Task Force’s meetings and other activities.